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Threat of ISIS attacks in France ‘very high’ says minister

France says 271 alleged militants have come home from Iraq and Syria, pushing the threat of militant attacks in France to “very high”.

Published: August 6, 2017, 1:25 pm

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    French Interior Minister Gerard Collumb told the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the suspected ISIS militants who returned to France are under investigation for terrorist activities in war zones.

    The number of returnees includes 217 adults and 54 minors, some who are currently in detention. Collumb told the Sunday weekly it was difficult to estimate exactly how many French nationals had been killed in the conflict in the Middle East. It is estimated that some 700 French nationals have fought for ISIS in Iraq in Syria.

    An undisclosed number of them have been detained while the rest are being vetted by public prosecutors, the interior minister said.

    France participated in the US led coalition in Iraq, along with other European countries, but many are now struggling with an influx of returnees from war zones.

    Collumb says France’s military interventions in such zones have exposed the country to attacks by ISIS militants. He cited two different incidences where police were targeted on Paris’ Champs Elysees as well as seven foiled plots so far this year.

    More than 18 500 jihadist suspects are currently listed, he said, as an increasing number of people are being flagged for radicalised behavior under a preventative monitoring system. But as in Britain, French authorities said that not all suspects were being constantly monitored; smaller numbers are investigated at regular intervals.

    A counter-terrorism bill is expected to be put before parliament soon to put anti-terror measures into law. Since the November 2015 attacks, France has been in a state of emergency, giving law enforcement extended powers.

    According to the US intelligence community, some 40 000 foreign fighters are estimated to have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria since they first declared their “caliphate” in 2014.

    The returnees have become equipped “with a whole new set of skills, a whole new set of contacts, perhaps even specialized skills that go into the areas of weapons of mass destruction,” the Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Nicholas Rasmussen, told the Aspen Security Forum last month.

    Adam Deen of London’s anti-radical Quilliam Foundation said ISIS losses would lead to increased danger in Europe. “What is important here is that the more Isis are under siege and the more territory they’re losing, the more they’re going to channel their efforts and energies into terrorism,” he said in an interview with The Independent.

    According to author Yves Mamou, in France’s Muslim population of at least six million, some 17 393 people had been listed as terror suspects, slightly less than the current figure cited by the Minister.

    In April 2017, the French Senate published its “Prevention of Radicalism and Regional Authorities” report, showing that since the beginning of March, 17 393 people listed as terror suspects.

    The head of the counter-terrorism coordination unit in France, Loic Garnier, told Le Figaro in January that around 700 French citizens were currently in Syria or Iraq.

    In May, the general secretariat of Interpol, published a list of Islamic State fighters who were thought to have already returned to Europe and may be planning suicide attacks in different countries. US intelligence had gained such information from terrorists captured during the assault on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

    Interpol has circulated a list of 173 Islamic State fighters it believes could have been trained to mount suicide attacks in Europe in revenge for the group’s military defeats in the Middle East.

    European counter-terror networks are concerned that as the ISIS “caliphate” collapses, there is an increasing risk of determined suicide bombers attacking Europe.

    But in the last 30 years, more mosques and Muslim prayer centers have been built in France than all the Catholic churches built in the last century.

    In France, strict laws protect old trees, but the state is free to demolish old Christian churches. A wrecking crew demolished the famed Chapel of Saint Martin in Sablé-sur-Sarthe, built in 1880-1886 and deconsecrated in 2015. The site will be used as a parking lot.

    Confusion meanwhile reigns in Germany, for example, as to how many such conflict-hardened individuals there are. According to a report from the Federal Criminal Police Office [Bundeskriminalamt], the number of suspects is on the rise, but they list only 657 people as capable of carrying out an attack, alongside another 388 “relevant persons” who might lend assistance to perpetrators.

    Separate information, however, from the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution [Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz], stated that the number of radicals in Germany had risen from 8 350 in 2015 to 10 100 in 2016, with 680 classified as “dangerous”.

    Hundreds of jihadists have gained entry to Germany as ordinary migrants welcomed into the country during the two previous years, some analysts have warned. Overall, however, the same agency estimates that 24 400 Islamists are active in Germany, a figures similar to that of the UK.

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